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The 1602 Annotations

Shortly after my own review of the first issue of Neil Gaiman's 1602 for Marvel, I received an e-mail from a writer named Julian Darius. Like A. David Lewis from Red Eye Press, Darius considers himself a comics scholar, and has undertaken a massive project: annotating 1602. So far, he has notations for the first two issues, and after reading his work, I look forward to the third.

These annotations prove both the legitimacy of "comics scholarship" and the depth of the work Gaiman does. With Darius' permission, we're reprinting the introduction to his notes, with a link to his site. If 1602 has left your head spinning a bit, this will help. Really.

Why Annotate 1602?

1602 is significant in uniting two worlds: that of the Marvel Universe of super-heroes, all with their own history, and that of Neil Gaiman, who brings to the project literary respectability as well as his revered writing skills. The publication of the series was not only a major event in comics, but a significant event in all publication due to Gaiman's considerable talents and reputation as a best-selling novelist. In both comics and novels, Gaiman maintains a considerable readership tending towards the intelligent young and willing to embrace clever takes on marginalized media, such as comics, and genres, from fantasy to super-heroes.

So why annotate 1602? First, why not? Fairly few annotations of comics are available, despite the maturation of the medium and the attention it increasingly receives in both scholarly and entertainment circles. Moreover, 1602 is an important work in comics by an incredibly important writer in multiple media. But 1602 is by nature a work that ravenously absorbs references and traditions: while featuring Marvel characters in alternate forms, it takes place primarily in late Elizabethan England. Any reader may not get this wide range of resonances, many of which are not necessary to follow the story (as narrowly defined). Any reader, but particularly those of Gaiman's best-selling novels, may not get 1602's resonances with Marvel Comics' many decades of history. And any reader may not understand the historical background into which the series is set. For these reasons, annotations are of particular value in the case of 1602.

An ancillary question is why I should be the one doing the annotations. First, there's not a lot of competition. Second, my own background seems perfectly suited to 1602, with both Renaissance English literature and comic books being areas of particular expertise. While my formal academic training has been in English literature, with more training in Renaissance literature than most other experts in the field, I have privately studied comics even more intensely -- in an age in which they are academically marginalized if not non-existent -- and have both published and presented on comics at international scholarly conferences. The apparently strange mix (perhaps not as strange as one would immediately think) of the Renaissance and super-heroes is shared by both 1602 and my biography. My point, I trust, made, I now stop burdening you with my credentials.

The Origin of 1602

In the 1980s and 1990s, when Neil Gaiman made his name working on The Sandman for DC Comics, he expressed no desire to work for Marvel Comics. Indeed, he expressed his desire not to do so for the same reason that his mentor Alan Moore had vowed never again to associate himself with Marvel Comics: Marvel had promised legal action over the name "Marvelman" after that British character, who normally appeared in the British anthology Warrior, got his own Marvelman Special.

The fact that Marvelman was published in the 1950s before Marvel Comics was Marvel Comics made no difference to Marvel, and the threat of a suit from deep-pocketed Marvel forced the Marvelman feature to stop appearing and to be changed to Miracleman as it moved to the U.S. to be reprinted and then continued by Eclipse Comics. While disdain for Marvel's strong-arm tactics in this episode caused both Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman to swear off Marvel Comics, both expressed no real desire to work with Marvel's characters, who they felt were inferior, or at least less iconic, than DC's.

The story of Marvel 1602's genesis is also intertwined with that of Miracleman, properly regarded as historically important on the highest level for the evolution of super-heroics and on which Gaiman had succeeded Alan Moore in the early 1990s but not finished before publisher Eclipse went bankrupt. Todd McFarlane, creator of Spawn and cofounder of Image Comics, bought Eclipse's characters in the bankruptcy auction. Gaiman, who had created the characters of Angela and Medieval Spawn for McFarlane, had been in a dispute with McFarlane over royalties for those characters' subsequent appearances in both comics and toys. McFarlane offered Gaiman Eclipse's rights to Miracleman, though what portion of the rights to Miracleman Eclipse actually held was itself disputed, in exchange for Gaiman surrendering his claim to the Spawn-related characters he had created; Gaiman agreed but McFarlane apparently failed to send the supporting documentation. In 2001, Miracleman's appearance in McFarlane's Hellspawn title was announced, and Gaiman had to respond. Now a best-selling writer for his novel American Gods, Gaiman asked readers to boycott the issues featuring Miracleman, initially declining to sue. As others rallied in support of Gaiman and of Miracleman, the limited-liability company Marvels and Miracles was formed to fight the legal battles over Miracleman. Gaiman and other creators transferred to Marvels and Miracles any rights to Miracleman that they held -- or may have held -- in order to fight the lawsuits with the eventual interest of having Miracleman published again.

By 2001, Marvel Comics had changed dramatically since the dark days of the 1980s when it had threatened to sue over the name Marvelman. Joe Quesada had become Editor-in-Chief and had, along with Marvel President Bill Jemas, aggressively recruited major comics creators and slowly renovated the entire Marvel line. Quesada wanted both Moore and Gaiman to work for Marvel, and he seized the opportunity to strike a deal with Gaiman: Gaiman would write a mini-series for Marvel and Quesada would donate Marvel's profits to Marvels and Miracles. In addition, Quesada expressed a willingness to publish Miracleman, despite its adult-oriented content in stark odds with Marvel's normal oeuvre, and promised to allow the name Marvelman, should Gaiman wish to return to it.

Before long, the title of Gaiman's mini-series was announced: 1602. In an industry where developments within various titles are typically leaked, publicized, and discussed months in advance, Quesada had already practiced secrecy to ensure surprise when he orchestrated the utter media shut-out over the contents of 1602. For a long time, this ambiguous title was all anyone knew about the mini-series. Industry journalists and fans speculated wildly about what this name meant, some investigating what happened in the year 1602. The artistic team of illustrator Andy Kubert and colorist Richard Isanove, who had developed a new artistic style, in which color is applied in subtle gradations on the computer in a manner mimicking painted art, for the blockbuster mini-series Origin (which told Wolverine's origin in expanded form and was held in similar secrecy), was assigned to 1602. The mini-series was planned for publication in 2002, but kept being delayed -- apparently as Gaiman and Marvel expanded its length and consulted on its content. Besides that it would take in the entire Marvel Universe in the year 1602, yet somehow ingeniously not take place in an alternate universe, no one knew anything more about the title when it was solicited with a few ambiguous pages in the June 2003 issue of Previews, published in the last week of May. Marvel 1602 -- the series's official title -- thus hit the stands on 13 August 2003 with massive publicity but with its contents almost entirely unknown.

For Julian Darius' annotations on 1602, click here.


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